News Release



For More Information:

William R. Steinhaus
Dutchess County Executive
(845) 486-2000

For Immediate Release

February 3, 1999


County Executive Renews Funding for Free Legal Services for Battered Women


Poughkeepsie, NY - County Executive William R. Steinhaus approved $50,000 in funds to develop a network of pro-bono attorneys to represent poor and low-income battered women in the Supreme Court of Dutchess County. The county has partnered with the Grace Smith House in Poughkeepsie, who is a licensed domestic violence service provider, to assist with the referrals to the program. The actual legal work will be the responsibility of Legal Services of  Dutchess County which is an affiliate of Westchester/Putnam Legal Services.

By partnering with the Grace Smith House the county actually saves taxpayer money. The fact that the Grace Smith House is a licensed domestic violence service provider will result in the state reimbursing the county 50% of the money dedicated to the program.

"This is a perfect example of how community collaboration allows the county to receive services at lower prices," said County executive Steinhaus. "By virtue of making the Grace Smith House a partner in this service, the county budget will literally save $25,000 thanks to the state reimbursements."

"This program helps low-income women get out of relationships where, unfortunately, they are abused. It is a wonderful effort by truly dedicated individuals," County Executive Steinhaus said. "Many of these women couldn't afford to pay a lawyer and would be forced to stay in these relationships if not for this program."

This service has two main functions. First is to train local attorneys to do pro-bono divorces, and second, to refer women in need to Legal Services of Dutchess County. The criteria for receiving assistance are that the women must come from abusive relationships, they must come from low income families and their divorces must be uncontested.

"Not enough women are aware of this program," said Alisa Robbins, Executive Director of the Grace Smith House. "Too many women stay in these relationships because it is difficult to get a divorce with no money. Many stay married in abusive relationships even after they left their partners. By doing this they are still financially responsible to the relationship and this jeopardizes their financial integrity." The Grace Smith House also works closely with the YWCA's Battered Women's Services.

The program began in 1998 and 12 new cases were accepted every month. Presently, there are 30 volunteer attorneys from the local bar, but the number of women seeking help still exceeds the capacity of the program. "We welcome additional attorneys to volunteer their services," said Jacqueline Ruppert, Managing Attorney for Legal Services of Dutchess County.  "Even if they are just out of school, we will provide the training necessary to file divorces."

"This public/private partnership between Grace Smith House and the county help both organizations provide better services,"   Steinhaus stated. "Now women who turn to the Grace Smith House or the YWCA can receive county supported legal services as well."

"Women who are referred to Legal Services of Dutchess County by either the Grace Smith House or the YMCA are given priority," said Alisa Robbins. "This way we can really help these women regain control of their lives quickly."


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